Minority Mentoring At Its Finest: How BOMA/Chicago’s Ollie Scholarship Is Elevating Commercial Real Estate Careers

Ebony Andry and Max Andrews

In the commercial real estate industry, there are inevitably going to be situations in which a person from a minority group is the only one in the room. Like everyone else, minority professionals want to excel in the workplace, and the importance of shared resources, education, and mentorship for everyone in the room cannot be understated.

While some mentorships within any industry come naturally for some, others may need to be more intentional about developing mentorships and finding a “safe space” to discuss professional goals and challenges openly and honestly.

The need to access intentional mentorships is just one of the many benefits to the Reginald L. Ollie Scholarship (also known as the “Ollie” Scholarship), created by the BOMA/Chicago Foundation in 2005.

Not only does the Ollie Scholarship provide a full ride for the Real Property Administrator (RPA)/Facilities Management Administrator (FMA) valued at $10,000, it also brings together minorities to address their shared professional experiences and find consistent support for advancement. Through the scholarship’s mentorship program, scholarship recipients can not only talk about any challenges but also create strategies for meeting these challenges head on.

That mentorship opportunity combined with a quest for knowledge and desire to maximize her career opportunities are what drew Ebony Andry to the scholarship.

“I knew that anyone could get an RPA – what I really needed was a mentor.” Ebony says. “While I was growing my knowledge through the RPA program, having a safe space to talk about challenges and creating strategies to meet those challenges head on allowed me to grow personally and professionally.”

The Ollie mentorship program pairs a mentor working the commercial real estate industry with a mentee of historically underrepresented groups to receive real-world learning and career guidance toward the RPA designation. The more Ebony discovered about the Ollie Scholarship, the more she realized that the program was simply too good to pass up and applied. In 2016, Ebony was awarded the Ollie scholarship, where she received full tuition to earn her RPA.

While the mentorship and full funding of the RPA courses were the main reasons Ebony applied for the scholarship, she quickly came to realize the visibility associated with being honored as a recipient of the Ollie scholarship was yet another opportunity.

“Not only are you at an event, honored in front of hundreds of people in the industry, but you are the person that they are presenting,” she says. “As the person of honor, you get the chance to meet a variety of people and get your face out there.”

The Real Work And Dedication Begins

As the program began, Ebony was matched with Max Andrews, a Territory Account Manager at Matting By Design, a 35-year-old company that specializes in manufacturing quality custom floor matting for commercial real estate buildings. Andrews had actually mentored a few other individuals through various programs prior to working with Ebony.

Ebony had previously taken one RPA class a year which was covered through her building’s educational budget. After winning the Ollie, Ebony felt a sense a of autonomy knowing that she could now accelerate her schedule to take two or three courses a year, meaning she could complete her RPA in just over two years. She was also eager to begin the mentorship which she felt was equally important.

As Ebony and Max began meeting, her expertise and confidence continued to grow and the two gained mutual respect and trust. “From our first meeting, having been a mentor to others, I thought that it was important to try to be as disarming as I could so we could begin with an openness,” Max says. “I told Ebony that the only rule that we were going to have was that there were no rules. I didn’t want to have an intentional agenda as much as be a resource to her. How did she feel about what she was doing in her career? What were her expectations for the program? She opened up from there and shared those goals.”

There’s little doubt that Ebony, through working with Max, has grown personally and professionally, gaining added confidence and knowledge to take her career to the next level and intensifying her courage to ask questions, even in those instances she describes as “being comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Ebony is becoming even more effective at leading and working with her team to collaborate, set goals, communicate effectively and get the job done.

Today, Ebony is now the Assistant Property Manager with Hines at a 1.3 million square foot, class “A” building.

Developing Your Own Resource Network

Max knew that even as he was mentoring Ebony and expanding her knowledge of the industry, her growth couldn’t live in a bubble. It would need to live within a passionate network of her peers – a resource network she would have to constantly develop.

“I told Ebony that every time you ask a question, it's your opportunity to form a partnership with another resource. So, don't be afraid to ask the question because that individual could be your resource,” he explains. “If that person’s response is the one that you need, then you can learn how to engage him as your resource for that information again going forward. That’s how you expand your network and gain more knowledge, because your network brings in more people and begins to grow exponentially with stronger relationships. Then you're off to the races.”

Paying it Forward  

As a result of Ebony’s positive experience in the Ollie Scholarship program, it didn’t take long for the mentee to become the mentor. Max stressed how their mentorship over the years has developed into a two-way relationship, and Ebony has already found opportunities to mentor others. She intentionally finds opportunities to meet other minorities who are in the industry to get together for coffee or lunch and offer herself as a resource to them.

As Max was listening to Ebony talk about her career goals and achievements in the aftermath of winning the Ollie Scholarship and earning her RPA two years later, Max couldn’t help but feel proud of his former mentee.

“This is not the same person I met years ago,” he says. “I can hear it in Ebony’s remarks and how she deals with things. It’s very gratifying to see the person she’s become today. Which is what we all wanted.”

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Learn more about BOMA/Chicago's Ollie scholarship on our website, including eligibility criteria and other details. For more information, contact Jaclynne Madden, Director of Education, at jmadden@bomachicago.org or call (312) 870-9608.

Applications for the Ollie scholarship will open December 4, 2019 through February 4, 2020.